I was lucky enough to witness Canada’s Cancer Bats in action back sometime around 2013 and was struck by the band’s intensity and obvious enjoyment with what they were doing. That was a Sidewave at Sydney’s Hi-Fi Bar supporting Bullet for My Valentine – which in this reviewer’s mind was a bit of an odd pairing, but whatever…
Seeing the band tonight in the Cambridge Hotel‘s diminutive pressure-cooker of a front room seemed to amplify the intensity of the band’s performance. With no photo pit, I was shooting from the mosh – experiencing the effect they were having on the audience first hand. The band tore up the stage with a set list bursting with tracks from just about their entire back catalogue, with highlights including ‘Sorceress’ and ‘Hail Destroyer’ from the album of the same name and ‘Gatekeeper’ and ‘Space and Time’ from latest album ‘The Spark That Moves’.
As a band not known for their five-minute-plus prog epics, they move through their 15-song set list rapid fire, broken up with witty banter from frontman Liam Cormier, including some classic Aussie piss-taking that the crowd laps up, despite being the brunt of the jokes. All in all, a great way to spend a rainy night in Newcastle.
What I would witness tonight would only reinforce would only reinforce an already firmly held belief that the best shows take place in intimate venues. Although, thanks to the Cambridge posting incorrect set times online once again, I’m sure there would have been a few nonplussed punters who either missed opening act Southeast Desert Metal altogether or only caught the last few minutes of their tight, albeit reserved performance (posted start time was 9pm, but the band started at around 8.30 and was finished at 9.15pm). While the band were pretty static on stage, their driving, propulsive mix of hard rock and classic metal sees the half-full room enthusiastic and supportive.
After about 40mins of set up time, Western Australia’s Karnivool took to the stage in what was to be a more pared back production – more visceral perhaps – than what I’d previously seen the band offer. Most importantly however, is the fact that the band was no less powerful for it. In fact, being up so close, with only the Cambo’s small security pit between Ian Kenny’s Zen-like stage moves and the sweaty sold-out Newcastle crowd, you could argue that the limited lighting and production only added to the intensity.
Tonight’s set list covers the spectrum of the band’s output thus far, including what I think were a few new or unreleased tracks like ‘Animation’, ‘Reanimation’ and ‘All It Takes’. Crowd response to them is good, but it’s obviously the known and loved tracks from the band’s three albums that get the most response.
Karnivool are a national treasure. They’re often cited as influences and hit ‘fave band’ lists from notable musos around the world and for good reason: their recorded output is impossible to fault and their live performance – as witnessed here tonight at the Cambridge – is just as strong. With a solid, clear mix, all the guys’ parts are perfectly audible, which is a feat unto itself with the beautiful subtlety that flows beneath all of Karnivool’s music. Add to that the strong, engaging stage presence and you’ve got the ingredients for a perfect night of intense, involving and damned catchy modern progressive metal.
It’s not every Sunday that you get to experience some of the crustiest, filthiest metal the scene has to offer while the sun is still shining (festivals being the exception). But here we are on a perfect Autumnal day, walking into the iconic Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle before 5pm to witness just that.
After a decent wait (even though it is still only 7pm!), The Illegals take to the stage amid a cacophony of distortion and pummelling drums. Former Pantera and Down (and many more besides) front man Phil Anselmo clenches his fists and plays a little air guitar side stage in the darkness – psyching himself up before launching into a blistering set that is split between 50-percent new material and 50-percent Pantera classics.
Perhaps the first thing you notice is that Anselmo still has an imposing presence on stage. The second thing is that he still boasts one of the best screams/growls in metal some 30 years after hitting the world stage on Cowboys From Hell (there weren’t any songs in the set list that let us gauge the health of his singing voice).
The Illegals are super tight, in a wonderfully ragged way and the mix is thick and full, which makes the aural onslaught of the blast beats and breakdowns particularly satisfying. While all the chosen tracks in the first half of the set get plenty of attention from the crowd (who clearly are also almost universally familiar with them), it’s no surprise that the Pantera tracks in the second half send everyone in the room into a state of apoplexy.
Mouth for War, Becoming, I’m Broken, Hellbound (with a medley of Domination and Hollow riffs), Walk and A New Level pretty much flatten the building and sound even more intense tuned down a couple of steps from the original recordings. At times the crowd threatens to drown out Phil’s barks and screams as everyone sings along to the classic lyrics that for many, influenced their adolescence.
During I’m Broken, Phil brings Toshi from Palm and Youngy from King Parrot on stage to help with the words. It’s not the last time the small Cambridge stage plays host to more musos. At the end of the set, the band invites all the other bands up on stage for a ‘jam’ to celebrate the end of the tour for Potion and Palm (a result of additional dates being added to the end of the tour with Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane being sold out).
It’s a barnstorming set and a brilliant afternoon of metal that leaves the room spent – even though it is still only 8.30pm!